In a new world record that would make your blood boil, the Perlan 2 glider surfed massive “mountain waves” on Sunday to the highest altitude yet reached by an unpowered aircraft.
The sleek glider soared into the stratosphere to reach a pressure altitude of more than 62,000 feet (60,669 ft GPS altitude), adding more than 8,000ft to the 52, 221 ft GPS altitude record set on September 3, 2017.
The feat took the pressurized aircraft past the Armstrong Line, the point in the atmosphere at which an unprotected human’s blood will boil.
This is the second world glider altitude world record for pilots Jim Payne and Morgan Sandercock and is part of the Airbus Perlan Mission II initiative to fly the high-tech glider to 90,000 ft and reach the edge of space.
It was achieved at the same site as last year’s record — El Calafate, Argentina — chosen because of the presence of stratospheric mountain waves, rare updrafts behind mountain ranges that are significantly strengthened by the polar vortex at certain times of the year.
El Calafate in the Andes Mountains is one of the few areas on the planet where mountain waves occur and the rising air currents can reach 100,000 ft or more.
Flights this year for the first time used a special high-altitude tow plane, a Grob Egrett G520 reconnaissance aircraft, which released at the glider at 42,000 ft. This approximately equivalent to the service ceiling of an Airbus A380.
“This is a tremendous moment for all the volunteers and sponsors of Airbus Perlan Mission II who have been so dedicated to making our nonprofit aerospace initiative a reality,” said Perlan Project chief executive Ed Warnock.
“Our victory today, and whatever other milestones we achieve this year, are a testament to a pioneering spirit of exploration that runs through everyone on the project and through the organizations that support us.”
The attempt to glide to new heights began with the Perlan 1 glider, now on display in the Seattle Museum of Flight, more than a decade ago backed by Perlan Project founder Project founder Einar Enevoldson and Steve Fossett.
The two set a world record in 2006 of 50,772 ft that held until it was broken in 2017 by the latest Perlan project.
The Perlan 2 was built in the US state of Oregon and includes a carbon-fiber capsule with a unique, high-efficiency pressurization system that eliminates the need for heavy compressors as well as closed-loop rebreather system in which the only oxygen used is what is needed by the crew.
It also an onboard “wave visualization system” that allows pilots to see a graphical display of rising and sinking air.
Airbus says the rebreather system has applications for other high altitude aircraft and the wave visualization system could allow commercial flights to follow lines of rising air that would allow faster climbs and help save fuel.
It could also help aircraft avoid dangerous phenomena such as wind shear and severe downdrafts.
The flight is also being used to measure radiation effects at high altitude, test a newly developed flight data recorder and carries new environmental sensors developed by the Perlan Project.
“Innovation is a buzzword in aerospace today, but Perlan truly embodies the kind of bold thinking and creativity that are core Airbus values,” Airbus chief executive Tom Enders said.